Sometimes, during a journey that was supposed to be rather uneventful, you can come across an unexpected historical monument. It is especially true in Turkey, where many monuments of the eastern region's rich past are still poorly documented and described. One of such monuments is the double Çarpıran Bridge that stands next to the important E99 route, connecting Diyarbakır and Van.
The bridges are situated in Siirt Province, a region rarely visited by foreign tourists but noteworthy because of its history and geography. Therefore, before discussing Çarpıran Bridges, let us take a short look at this province of the country.
Siirt Province is relatively small, with the area of 5.5 thousand square kilometres, and its population is just over 300 thousand people. They are Turks, Kurds, and local Arabs who speak a peculiar dialect of Arabic. The region has had strategic importance since the ancient times. It was protected by natural geographical features - unscalable mountains and Tigris River that now forms the border between Siirt and Mardin provinces. The main river of Siirt province is now known as Botan Çayı, and it flows in narrow, deep and steep valleys and canyons before joining Tigris River. Greek historian Xenophon mentioned the crossing of the river Kentrites (Botan) in his Anabasis (The March of the Ten Thousand).
However, the history of the region is much older than that as many civilisations settled along the shores of Botan River. Within the scope of Southeastern Anatolia Prehistoric Research programme, in 1963, Halet Çamlıbel and R.J. Braidwood conducted the archaeological surveys of Siirt Province. They discovered the traces of Neolithic, Copper, Bronze, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic Period settlements.
The Hurrians settled in the region some four thousand years ago. Later, Hurrian-speaking people founded the Kingdom of Mitanni that also encompassed the area of Siirt Province and lasted from around 1500 BCE to 1300 BCE. The kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians. Its lands, including Southeastern Anatolia, became provinces of the Middle Assyrian Empire until 1020 BCE. After a spectacular territorial expansion, the empire went into a century of decline, starting from the latter part of the 11th century BCE.
The power vacuum was quickly filled in by the people closely related to the Hurrians, who spoke Urartian language, similar to the old Hurrian. The Urartians formed the mighty Kingdom of Urartu, and quickly expanded from their homeland situated around Lake Van and Mount Ararat. In the late 10th century BCE, the Assyrians reorganised themselves, forming Neo-Assyrian Empire and consequently reconquering the areas previously lost to the Urartians, including the region of Siirt.
The Persians became the dominant player in the 6th century BCE when they formed the Achaemenid Empire. This powerful state expanded westwards and conquered all Anatolia. From this moment, the history of Siirt Province follows the well-known pattern. It became the part of the short-lived empire created by Alexander the Great after his war against Persia. Later, it belonged to the Seleucid Empire that was formed after Alexander's death. Parthia expanded into the region in the 2nd century BCE when it competed for the control of the lands with the Kingdom of Armenia.
Siirt region briefly became part of the Roman Empire after Emperor Trajan's Parthian War in 115 CE. Afterwards, its frequently changed hands as the borderland between the Byzantine Empire, Kingdom of Armenia and Parthian Empire. The balance of power in the region changed dramatically with the arrival of the Arabs in the 7th century. Siirt area was conquered by the Islamic troops as early as 639, during the reign of Umar, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate. Under Umar, the Islamic empire expanded at an unprecedented rate, conquering the whole Sassanid Persian Empire and more than two-thirds of the Eastern Roman Empire. After the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Siirt was controlled by the succession of the Umayyad, Abbasid, Hamdanid, Marwanid, Artuqid of Hasankeyf, Zengid, and Ayyubid dynasties. The Turkish people appeared in the region with the expansion of the Seljuk Empire after the Battle of Manzikert in 1071.
In the 13th century, the Mongol invasion into Anatolia brought the period of decentralisation and chaos. Between the 13th and the 16th century, Siirt region was under the control of the Safavids of Persia and Akkoyunlu Turcomans. In these days, Siirt developed as a centre of Islamic learning, and many medreses were constructed. They became training facilities for numerous geographers, astronomers, physicians, and statesmen.
The turning moment of the region's history was the Battle of Chaldiran that took place on the 23rd of August 1514. It was fought between the armies of the Ottoman and the Safavid empires. The Ottoman forces won a decisive victory that opened the eastern Anatolia for them. After the battle, Siirt became a sanjak of the Ottoman Empire, attached first to the province of Diyarbakir, and later to the province of Van.
With the conflict between the Ottomans and the Safavids, we finally reach the history of Çarpıran Bridges. According to Türk Tarihi Ansiklopedisi, published in 1991, the bridges were built over the Botan Stream between 1510 and 1514. The reason of their construction were the orders the Ottoman sultans Bayezid II and Selim I who prepared for the military campaign in the east.
However, the date of the bridges' construction remains controversial as the inscription plaque of the bridges has been lost. According to Ayhan Mergen from the Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of Environmental and Cultural Values (ÇEKÜL), the construction date of the bridge is estimated as the 16th or the 17th century.
Over the next centuries, Çarpıran Bridges played a vital role in the trading network of the Ottoman Empire. They carried the caravans arriving from the south, especially from Cizre, that transported their goods towards the trading centres of Eastern Anatolia.
The name Çarpıran Bridge actually describes a system of two bridges. The name - Çarpıran - means Collapsing. It is also known under the name of Dörtulular Bridge, meaning Four Nationos Bridge.
Although the bridges were built during the Ottoman period, their architectural style reminds of the earlier Seljuk models. The bridges are erected from cut stone blocks and rubble.
The first bridge is relatively flat, and it was originally supported on four arches. It is around 48 meters long and 4.5 meters wide. The second bridge, much shorter, is hump-backed, with just one arch. Its appearance brings to mind the similarity to the famous Stari Most in Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Despite being one of the most important historical monuments of Siirt Province, the first Çarpıran Bridge was repeatedly damaged. In 2012, after the restoration was finished, one arch of the bridge collapsed. Despite the declarations of the authorities about the significance of the bridge and the need for its urgent repair, the condition of the structure got worse over time. In July 2017, when Turkish Archaeological News team visited the region, the visible damage to the bridge was more severe than in the photographs published by Turkish newspapers in 2012.
The access to the bridges is free of charge. In 2017, the major construction project was carried out nearby, as the new road was constructed.
The bridges are situated to the south of E99 (D965) road that connects Bitlis (45 km to the northeast) and Silvan (80 km to the west).